In the 32nd minute of Saturday evening’s Premier League clash at Old Trafford, Christian Pulisic cut inside on to his right foot and scuffed a shot towards goal. David de Gea claimed the ball with ease.
Frank Lampard’s decision to adopt a conservative approach, playing with five at the back, undoubtedly contributed significantly to what was a shocking spectacle.
Of course, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s United side didn’t play with any great adventure either, with neither side doing enough to win the game.
Evidently, the two managers were more interested in keeping a clean sheet than entertaining those watching at home, which was understandable.
Both Solskjaer and Lampard would have been fearing a bitter backlash had they been beaten, given the pressure they have found themselves under after their respective team’s inconsistent starts to the new season.
For Chelsea, this was the second game in a row in which an obsession with securing a clean sheet stifled any creativity in a team that features Kai Havertz, Pulisic and Timo Werner in the forward line. So, after the Champions League stalemate at home to Sevilla, another 0-0 was inevitable.
Chelsea had looked defensively vulnerable during the opening rounds of the new campaign, with their new signings perhaps unsurprisingly struggling to understand what Lampards wants from his players in terms of pressing.
However, there was also the fact that the arrival of Havertz had prompted the manager to play with four attackers, rather than three. Something was always going to give, at least initially.
The Southampton game was undoubtedly the tipping point, as Chelsea’s strategy of all-out attack created a wide-open defence, resulting in a topsy-turvy game in which the Blues twice threw away the lead.
Lampard’s approach had already been under scrutiny, given his side shipped 54 goals last season – the club’s highest haul over the course of a single campaign since Roman Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2003.
The former midfielder has obviously tried to redress the unbalanced nature of his top-heavy side over the past week. However, while Chelsea have some newfound solidity in defence thanks to Lampard’s tactical changes, they are now lacking a cutting edge in attack.
Havertz looked particularly lost at Old Trafford. The German, who hasn’t found his feet at all yet, registered one key pass and zero shots against United, while Pulisic has still not rediscovered his fine form from last season.
Werner, meanwhile, is struggling to get on the ball. He had 26 touches on Saturday– four fewer than goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, whose stunning late save from Marcus Rashford effectively earned his new club a share of the spoils.
And that was the one big positive of the evening for Chelsea: Kepa Arrizabalaga’s replacement suggesting that the Blues have finally found a goalkeeper capable of winning his side points rather than losing them.
The Senegal international may have only just arrived in west London but he has already racked up three clean sheets, which is more than Kepa (none) and Willy Caballero (one) combined.
It was telling that all of Chelsea’s ‘highlights’ involved defenders, chief among them Thiago Silva, who made a fine block late on to deny former Paris Saint-Germain striker a goal on his debut.
With Chelsea’s midfielders denied any creative licence, Reece James was arguably the team’s most creative attacking outlet, thanks to his quality crosses from deep areas, while it was Cesar Azpilicueta who should have earned the visitors a penalty, when he was manhandled in the area by Harry Maguire.
However, neither the referee Martin Atkinson nor Stuart Attwell felt compelled to punish the United skipper for what many observers felt was a clear foul, much to the frustration of Blues fans.
Chelsea needed a penalty to have any hope of scoring and the lack of incision and innovation is undoubtedly a major concern for a side that spent more than £200 million on new attackers during the summer.
Indeed, it was disappointing to see such an expensively assembled side play so conservatively. The Blues usually employ a Jurgen Klopp-style game, energetically and relentlessly pressing high up the pitch but now they have embraced a low block.
In addition, they’re also playing much longer passes so as to avoid being caught on the counterattack by sides like United, who have plenty of pace in attack.
Clearly, Lampard now feels that in spite of the fact that he overhauled his forward line during the summer, he now needs to focus on his side’s foundations. It’s quite the dramatic change of philosophy, with Chelsea essentially switching from one extreme to the other.
Still, at least Lampard has some, theoretically, easier games to hone his tactics, with Krasnodar, Burnley, Rennes and Sheffield United up next for the Blues.
However, with a softer run of fixtures comes less room for error. It would be difficult for Chelsea fans to stomach the kind of turgid football they saw at Old Trafford in the upcoming games against weaker opposition.
The pressure, then, is on Lampard to find the right balance between defence and attack.
Source : goal.com